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How to Build a Relationship Based on Interdependence

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What Is Interdependence?

Interdependence (or interdependency) suggests that partners recognize and value the importance of the emotional bond they share while maintaining a solid sense of self within the relationship dynamic.1

An interdependent person recognizes the value of vulnerability, being able to turn to their partner in meaningful ways to create emotional intimacy. They also value a sense of self that allows them and their partner to be themselves without any need to compromise who they are or their values system.

Being dependent on another person can sound scary or even unhealthy. Growing up, we are often taught an over-inflated value of independence, to be somewhat self-contained, with a high value placed on not needing others for emotional support.

As valuable as having a sense of independence is, taken to an extreme, this can actually get in the way of us being able to connect emotionally with others in a meaningful way. Emotional intimacy with a partner can be difficult to achieve, even scary or not seen as particularly valuable in a relationship, for those who have an extraordinary sense of independence.
Interdependence Is Not Codependence

Interdependence is not the same thing as being codependent. A codependent person tends to rely heavily on others for their sense of self and well-being. There is no ability for that person to distinguish where they end and their partner begins, there is an enmeshed sense of responsibility to another person to meet their needs and/or for their partner to meet all of their needs to feel okay about who they are.

Traits of a codependent relationship include things like:2

Poor/no boundaries
People-pleasing behaviors
Reactivity
Unhealthy, ineffective communication
Manipulation
Difficulty with emotional intimacy
Controlling behaviors
Blaming each other
Low self-esteem of one or both partners
No personal interests or goals outside the relationship

Codependent relationships are not healthy and do not allow partners room to be themselves, to grow, and to be autonomous. These unhealthy relationships involve one or both partners relying heavily on the other and the relationship for their sense of self, feelings of worthiness, and overall emotional well-being. There are often feelings of guilt and shame for one or both partners when the relationship is not going well.

Why Interdependence Is Healthy for a Relationship

Interdependence involves a balance of self and others within the relationship, recognizing that both partners are working to be present and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs in appropriate and meaningful ways.

Partners are not demanding of one another and they do not look to their partner for feelings of worthiness. Interdependency gives each partner space to maintain a sense of self, room to move toward each other in times of need and the freedom to make these decisions without fear of what will happen in the relationship.

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